"Y our course,” Mrs. Steinberg said, “was phenomenal!”

Mrs. Steinberg, the principal of a Bais Yaakov school, had sent several of her special education teachers to Retorno’s 12-step methodology course, which was nearing conclusion.

“You don’t understand,” she gushed, “you can’t possibly know what a difference your course has made. Especially to Miriam. She was always an adequate teacher, but now she’s exceptional!”

I tried to thank her but I couldn’t get a word in.

“Miriam connects with her students but sometimes has trouble controlling the class. Over the last few months, she’s changed. She lets the kids know what’s expected of them, then sticks with them, doesn’t let them give up on themselves. I can’t even explain it, she got tougher and softer at the same time. The kids love her. I don’t know how you people do it, but yasher koach!”

It was a good thing this conversation took place by phone and not in person — I’m not sure I could’ve kept a straight face.

Mrs. Steinberg didn’t know that I already had the inside scoop on Miriam, as she’d been driving me to the course each week, and our time together was spent delving into the various methods taught by me and the rest of the staff. She peppered me with focused, intelligent questions: What’s the best way to convince a yeshivah bochur he needs help? How do you know if a person needs inpatient or outpatient treatment? My answers usually began with a theoretical explanation and were then illustrated with an example.

After the class covering Step Four, Miriam asked, “So what does a person do with resentments against family members?” She tried to pose the question with the same detachment as her previous questions, but I suspected the issue was not merely an academic one.

“Can you give me an example?” I asked.

She thought for a while but couldn’t come up with anything. I suggested she think about her own family; surely not all was smooth sailing there.

She shook her head. “My husband and I get along fine. And my kids are just regular kids.”

I gave her an example from my own experience. She listened, she understood… but she couldn’t relate to it personally.

Two weeks later, Miriam greeted me with, “I have an example of a resentment.”

Two weeks, and she was able to dredge up one resentment? Either she was a tzadeikes or she was totally out of touch with her feelings.

“I wanted to go to my cousin’s wedding but my husband didn’t. I said I’d go without him. He didn’t argue, but he kept fussing, complaining about staying home alone. Said I was abandoning him, kept making sad faces. Finally, I decided it just wasn’t worth making him so miserable, so I stayed home.”

“And you resent him for it?”

“Resent is a strong word.”

“You used it, not me.”

“Well, resentment is one thing, but I don’t resent him.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I didn’t want him to be upset,” she continued, “but the wedding was really important to me. And he does this often — moping, fussing, making me feel bad.”

“Did you tell him how you feel?”

“Yes. I told him this cousin and I were close when we were younger, that I haven’t seen this branch of the family for ages, that my mother also wanted me to go.”

“Miriam,” I said, “it certainly sounds like you told him what you thought. But how did you feel?”

“Like maybe he was right, and his needs come first, that—”

“Those are all thoughts. What did you feel?” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 569)